Photograph by Norman Wong

It’s not often that a band debuts a full album in concert more than a month before its release, but that’s the way Stars chose to showcase The Five Ghosts. Having had that month to let the music gestate, I was eager to see if the recorded output could match the live show. After a May filled with releases but few that really delivered, I’m happy to find an album I can love from start to finish.

Those who have heard the band’s Sad Robot EP will have a good idea of the direction Stars went with The Five Ghosts.  To put it succinctly, the album’s thesis is down with strings, up with synthesizers.  The DJ set Torquil Campbell played prior to their performance hinted at major influences, most notably New Order and Pet Shop Boys. You could say this is Stars meets the ’80s. I suppose titling the album The Five Ghosts and peppering song lyrics with mentions of said ghosts makes this somewhat of a concept album, but thematically, it’s familiar turf, dealing with love, past and current, returned and unrequited, alive and (un?)dead.

‘Dead Hearts’ starts the album off strongly, reminiscent of ‘Your Ex-Lover Is Dead’, with both Campbell and Amy Millan sharing lead vocals. The mood shifts after the opener, with a slew of upbeat songs that are, dare I say it, rather bouncy. ‘Wasted Daylight’, an ode to a wasted day in bed, feels very current, which is refreshing.  Stars’ albums tend to tilt toward the moody after-effects of relationships, so it’s nice to see when they revel in the joy of the moment. It’s still recognizably Stars, but somehow lighter. ‘Fixed’ skews fairly closely to the ‘Ageless Beauty’ template as the obvious first single, but both  ‘I Died So I Could Haunt You’ and the glitchy, drum machine-fuelled ‘We Don’t Want Your Body’ seem equally worthy of mass appeal. ‘The Passenger’ somehow managed to worm its way into my head based solely on the “oo oo” breakdown of the chorus.  Worn out and coming out of the concert hall, it was the tune that remained in my head for the walk home.

The Five Ghosts was released on the band’s own imprint, Soft Revolution, and it’s easy to see why they were so confident putting it out themselves. It’s one of their better albums, and with a discography including Heart and Set Yourself on Fire, that’s no small compliment.

Stars – We Don’t Want Your Body
Stars – The Passenger

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— , June 26, 2010    Comments Off on Stars: The Five Ghosts

Having loved Stars since first hearing ‘Elevator Love Letter’, I was excited to finally see them in person. It was only after I purchased a ticket that I learned they would be playing their forthcoming album, The Five Ghosts, in its entirety. It takes a brave band to perform that much new material without alienating the audience.  Thankfully, the initial unfamiliarity quickly gave in to a massive love-in between the band and the crowd. I had a less successful experience with Islands in that hazy period between Return to the Sea and Arm’s Way.

Dead Child Star, one of Torquil Campbell’s side-projects, was listed as an opener, but instead we received a DJ set courtesy of Campbell. I was under the impression that a DJ set was a little more involved than opening a playlist in iTunes, but toward the end of the set there was some more interaction and interesting trivia. Campbell claimed that ‘West End Girls’ by the Pet Shop Boys was the sixth best song ever written, and revealed ‘Thieves Like Us’ by New Order was the song responsible for Stars’ existence as a band. After noting the irony in so many couples coming to a concert of what I’ve always considered break-up music, I was ready for the main event.

After some time, the band emerged and began to play The Five Ghosts from start to finish. While the songs themselves are a bit of a blur, it’s safe to say I’m looking forward to getting a hold of the record itself. The most apparent change from the band’s previous work is a heavier focus on synthesizers, and calling back to the New Order played earlier, some of the new material was even danceable. I felt In Our Bedroom After the War didn’t escape the shadow of Set Yourself on Fire, so it’s good to hear something a little different. Floral arrangements adorned the stage, and the band members frequently threw petals and flowers into the audience. The new songs seemed to go over well with the rest of the crowd, though you could tell that some people were yearning for something more familiar.

Stars – Your Ex-Lover Is Dead
Stars – Fixed

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— , May 16, 2010    1 Comment

Photograph by Meqo Sam Cecil

Welcome back to Ca Va Cool’s countdown of the 20 Best Canadian Albums of the 2000s. By now you’ve read the first half of our list which included everything from cult favourites to mainstream hits which truly answered the question “Old world underground, where are you now?”. The conclusion of our list offers you ten undeniable, bonafide, outright classics of Canadian indie. These albums showed that Canada was host to some of the most vibrant musical movements on the planet and for the first time, instead of borrowed nostalgia from our parents’ record collections, this was the music we lived. These are the albums which made us sing, dance, rock out, think, love, and pick up instruments to do it all again. It’s been one hell of the decade, here are the Best Canadian Albums of the 2000s.

Death from Above 1979

10. Death from Above 1979You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine (Last Gang, 2004)

When I first listened to You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, I wasn’t sure what it was. It was kind of like metal and kind of like dance music, but it was surely like nothing I had heard before. It was a breath of fresh air in the Toronto scene which captured such a diverse group of listeners. You could dig this album if you liked rock, punk, dance, metal, just about anything that could be sold in an alternative section of a mainstream music store. ‘Romantic Rights’ even got its fair share of play on MuchMusic. I was hopeful to see what would come next from the duo, which unfortunately would be a statement from bass player Jesse Keeler saying that they’ve called it quits. The two members now have their own separate projects, where appropriately one makes dance music (MSTRKRFT), and one makes rock music (Sebastien Grainger and The Mountains). — Kyle Sikorsi

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— , December 11, 2009    22 Comments

All Photographs by Paul Shin

This concert was not broken. On July 11, 2009, 18 Torontonians got together to do something they’d all done before. Arriving in town from disparate locations, they met at Toronto’s Harbourfront and went on to play a concert which will undoubtedly be forever engrained in Toronto music history. One of a kind, symbolic, chaotic, harmonious, an end and a start – and to think, it was all born out of an extended apology.

The day was meant to host an annual festival curated by Arts&Crafts Records on Olympic Island. A few months after announcing the show, to the chagrin of many, the festival was cancelled due to worries of competing with the noisy Molson Indy 500 cars racing on the Gardiner Expressway, across the lake only a few kilometres away. In its place, Captain Kevin Drew announced that his band would play a free show on that same evening at the Harbourfront Centre and hoped, with a cherry on top, that this show “with special guests” would be enough to redeem themselves for not cross-checking their dates with David Miller’s calendar first. I was lucky enough to be there, and let me tell you, it was most definitely enough.

From the moment I got there, seeing the multiple cameras rolling, gathering footage for the upcoming concert documentary This Movie Is Broken…I knew that something out of the ordinary was about to happen. For starters, the setting felt more right than any other venue I’d seen them or any derivative of the collective at. Don’t get me wrong, I love Olympic Island, but everything about an experience on the islands feels separate and distinct from an experience in Toronto-proper.

Standing at the Toronto shoreline for a free concert in the nano-sized amphitheatre, I looked around and realized that this wasn’t the typical audience that I’d seen at past BSS shows. Sure, the tweed jackets, fedoras, ironic t-shirts, plaid shirts and dirty-man beards were all there, but they were all interspersed among a crowd including families, young and old, black and white, yellow and brown, from neon-coloured hipsters to urban b-boys, and more. Did these people even know who Broken Social Scene are? I sent a text to a friend, as I settled into a space I found apt, saying that I was praying to the rain gods to wash the riff-raff spectators away, so that I could get closer to the band that I loved more than they did. But rain clouds refused to appear, and I soon ate my e-words.

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— , July 23, 2009    16 Comments

Stars

Stars have been pretty forward-thinking in experimenting with new music industry models over the past year. I had a discussion with some friends recently which stemmed from talking about the strategies that Stars, and their independent label Arts&Crafts, have been using lately, which turned into a discussion on the transformation of the music industry. I thought it was kind of interesting, and so I thought, maybe I’d share some of the thoughts here:

In releasing their fourth LP, In Our Bedroom After the War last year, Stars chose to make the album available electronically months before the physical album hit stores, in an effort to beat internet leaks, and offer fans a legit alternative to bootlegging. Radiohead obviously brought a lot of press to this new approach with In Rainbows later in ’07, which has been used by bands and artists in some shape or form repeatedly through 2008. Last Friday the Stars pulled a Raconteurs and announced that on the other side of the long-weekend, they’d be dropping a new EP – the Sad Robots EP – with 5 new tracks, and one live version of fan-favorite “Going, Going, Gone” from their first album Nightsongs.

It seems like bands and labels alike are starting to realize that the old industry model of building hype for an album over the course of months and years can be damaging:

1. Media and fan expectations start to go through the roof (see: Dr. Dre “Detox” or Guns and Roses “Chinese Democracy”);

2. Leaks and demos continually surface and are given ample distribution time prior to a record’s actual release, which means that people have plenty of time to poke holes into an album and get tired of it, before it ever sees the light of day (see: 50 Cent, Linkin Park, or the Smashing Pumpkins);

3. The rate at which new bands and music are popping up and being shared, thanks to the Mp3, MySpace and cheaper recording technology these days, has meant that a band that no one’s heard of one day, has a platinum record within a few weeks (see: Vampire Weekend or Arcade Fire) and can become the new hottness that kills – or at least competes formidably – with a carefully crafted blockbuster music release by a major label (see: Lil’ Wayne vs. Coldplay in the USA).

The speed at which information is now passed around is fast enough that hype can be built-up even more, overnight or over a week and a half (See: Radiohead) for a new release. What’s more is that in the short amount of time between annoucement and release, the odds of a leak occurring go way down, and people’s expectations for what an album should live-up to tend to not climb as high – which is nice because artists can go back to focussing on just making an album about the music (See: Kevin Drew), rather than having to make the best album of their career from a commercial and critical standpoint (See: Outkast “The Hard 10”).

So after all that, let’s go back to the EP. I like it, don’t love it. If you’ve liked the Stars in the past, chances are you’ll like them again on this EP, full of soft and gentle love songs about a man who doesn’t think he’ll be able to love again … til tomorrow. Torque and Amy sound really great, but the instrumentation and ambiant noise gets a little lazy at parts. And if you’re looking for another “Your Ex-lover is Dead” you won’t find it here.

Stars – Undertow
Stars – 14 Forever
Stars – Sad Robot

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— , September 1, 2008    3 Comments